After a long negotiation process, the Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich fire departments have a modernized firefighting mutual aid agreement.
According to a media release from Victoria, the new agreement announced Jan. 26 ensures cooperation between the three core municipalities, aligns fire service practices and permits automatic aid.
The agreement also increases resource capacity and joint training for firefighters across departments to ensure a coordinated response when attending “high-risk events.”
The process of renewing the old mutual aid agreement began in 2015 when the City of Victoria reached out to Oak Bay, Saanich and Esquimalt looking to update the more than 30-year-old agreement.
After five years of back and forth, Victoria served notice in August 2020 that it would no longer be participating in the old agreement at the end of 120 days.
By mid-January, new agreements had been reached and Victoria Fire Chief Paul Bruce said they will serve as a tool for the departments to consult when additional resources are required to ensure the safety of firefighters and citizens during high-risk incidents.
The Saanich Fire Department is looking forward to working under the new agreement and continuing to “provide a high level of service to residents of Saanich and the region,” said Fire Chief Mike Burgess. “We are thrilled to be taking yet another step forward” to ensure fire service meets the needs of the community.
Oak Bay Fire Chief Darren Hughes said the “modern, forward-looking agreement” will improve collaborative efforts and foster more efficient inter-departmental operations – resulting in service that’s safer for all residents and firefighters.
The agreement includes a cost-recovery measure that will ensure municipalities are reimbursed for fire services provided outside their borders. In September, Bill Eisenhauer, head of engagement for the City of Victoria, explained that a fee-for-service model was proposed because the 1980 agreement “resulted in the potential for disproportionate costs to be borne by the City of Victoria in the absence of reciprocity.”
The original agreement also included Esquimalt but the township updated its mutual aid agreements with Saanich and Oak Bay in 2016. A renewed agreement between Victoria and Esquimalt was recently reached but reflects the fact that the Esquimalt Fire Department has historically relied more heavily on mutual aid from the CFB Esquimalt Fire Services. However, Esquimalt firefighters are often on standby for incidents in Vic West.
The new agreement with Victoria builds on “our high level of community service by providing both parties with a framework that is responsive to the two communities’ needs,” said Esquimalt Fire Chief Chris Jancowski. As a result, each municipality has access to additional resources in the event of “large scale or complex emergencies.”